FRANCONIA >> What had the makings of a classic, back-and-forth struggle turned into an overwhelming performance by the Upper Dublin football team Saturday.
The Cardinals scored on their first four possessions of the second half, quarterback Ryan Stover threw for 246 yards and ran for 60 more, and Upper Dublin capped a tremendous all-around performance by passing around its first District One Class AAAA trophy, earning a 46-21 win over North Penn on a sunny afternoon at Souderton Area High School.
“It seems like, as long as I’ve been playing here, I haven’t come to know anything else but being the underdog,” said Ryan Stover, who completed 14 of 23 passes, hitting a half dozen different receivers in the win. “We came into the game with the same mentality. We ran into a little adversity in the first half but we corrected what needed to get done.
“(Winning the district title) still hasn’t hit me. We’re still playing football so that’s all that matters.”
The win sends 14-0 Upper Dublin to an Eastern Final showdown with Parkland, a 16-13 overtime winner over La Salle. North Penn, having won 10 in a row coming into the contest, finished its season 11-3.
“(I told the team) that they had a great year, that they really played hard and left it on the field,” said Knights coach Dick Beck, who guided NP to its 10th district final appearance in 14 years. “Today wasn’t our day. It was Upper Dublin’s day.”
A 35-yard strike from Ryan Stover to tight end Jack Rapine had the Cardinals moving in a hurry to start the third quarter. Two plays later, Stacey Gardner scored on a 13-yard draw play to put Upper Dublin in front for good, 24-21.
The Knights were forced to punt on their next series, with the Cardinals taking over possession at their own 40.
On 3rd-and-11 at the 39, Ryan Stover hit James Lampmann on a crossing pattern, good for 16 yards, then hit Danny Boggs over the middle for seven.
Four plays later, facing 3rd-and-9 at the Knights’ 31, Stover lofted a 31-yard touchdown pass down the middle to Rapine, with the extra point by Todd Spirt boosting the Upper Dublin lead to 31-21.
“In the first half, (North Penn) did a real good job of keeping our offense off the field,” the quarterback said. “When we get the chance, we can put up points real fast.”
A fumble by the Knights gave third-seeded Upper Dublin the ball right back. The Cardinals covered 27 yards in four plays, with Stacey Gardner crashing in from the three to give Upper Dublin a 37-21 lead with 2 minutes and 53 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Although the extra-point attempt was blocked, the Cardinals were closing in on a victory.
“You can’t have a better third quarter,” coach Bret Stover said. “You can’t have a better script that way. The guys feed off each other. If you take run or pass away, we go to the other, and with Ryan checking at the line, it makes it a lot easier.
“Half of that stuff, I didn’t call. He did a lot of that himself.”
Upper Dublin’s defense did not surrender a single first down in the third quarter, allowing the Cardinal offense to keep humming right along. Gardner’s fourth rushing touchdown — a nine-yarder — put the game away early in the fourth, giving the Cardinals a 44-21 advantage.
A safety on a North Penn punt attempt capped the scoring with 8:25 to play.
The Knights had limited Upper Dublin to a field goal in the second quarter in taking a 21-17 lead into the break, but as the game wore on, Ryan Stover kept drives alive for the Cardinals.
“The thing is, rarely is it the first guy that hits him is the one who brings him down,” Beck said of the 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior. “When he’s in the pocket, you hit him and he falls back and makes a great play. The game plan was to try and keep him in the pocket, because when he got outside the pocket, we lost our guys (in coverage).”
Stover’s 41-yard run on a QB draw put Upper Dublin in front, 7-0, over the No. 9 Knights, a lead that would grow to 14-0 in the first when Gardner pushed his way from eight yards out.
North Penn responded with back-to-back touchdown drives, the first one capped by Dontae Stewart’s four-yard score, and the second one finished off by a six-yard TD run by Nyfease West (144 yards).
The Knights’ first extra-point attempt was blocked, but they evened things at 14 apiece when quarterback Reece Udinski handed off to Justis Henley, who then threw to a wide-open Udinski for the two-point converstion.
North Penn took its only lead when West scored from two yards out, but then it was all Upper Dublin.
“They kind of slammed it up on us, in true North Penn fashion,” Bret Stover said of the Knights’ three touchdown drives. “West is a great running back and they’re well-coached. Dick does a great job with his guys.
“We had to stop running up the field defensively. We were giving them the kickout block and they were kicking us out big time. We made subtle adjustments, but really what it was was we closed down the edge and took that away.”
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